Smoked chicken wings are some of the best things to come out of a smoker! These delicious chicken wings have crispy skin, juicy meat, are full of flavor - the perfect party food - and easy to make, at that!
This past weekend, the weather was perfect to do something we’ve been planning to do for a while - do up all of our favorite smoking recipes (sometimes they’re less a “Recipe” and more of a “how-to”!), and photograph them to share on the blog.
We’ve got some amazing recipe / how-to posts coming, but let me start with our smoked chicken wings recipe!
It took some playing around with techniques, but with a little effort, we came up with the best way to smoke chicken wings.
Now our favorite way to do wings, this recipe makes the best wings, avoiding common pitfalls to smoking chicken. Due to our preparation of the chicken - and a 2-step cooking process - we avoid the rubbery skin that smoking can cause, turning out crispy wings.
Outside of the crispy chicken skin, this is juicy chicken, with delicious flavor!
While some swear by tossing wings with either baking powder or corn starch before smoking, I prefer to use paper towels to remove moisture before smoking.
It’s just a matter of personal preference - I am just not a fan of the taste/texture of corn starch or baking powder on wings
After smoking, we crisp them up with heat - rather than the addition of ingredients.
Aside from this 2 step cooking process, we also veered away from convention a bit with our internal temperature targets.
Conventional food safety guidelines tell us to cook all chicken to 165. That said, I find that dark meat actually benefits from being cooked to a bit higher of an internal temp, as it breaks it down a bit, making it even more tender.
For this reason, we smoke to about 165, then fry on top of it. The frying raises the temp beyond the 165, but the added fat from the dark meat keeps it juicy, preventing it from drying out as it cooks..
Anyway, let’s get to it, there’s a lot to discuss here!
Let’s start with the easiest piece of equipment you’ll need - an Instant-Read Meat Thermometer. The internal temperature matters, both for food safety and quality reasons.
If you don’t already have such a device, I highly recommend getting one!
Smoke & Heat Source
You can use a smoker - ideal - or grill to make these wings. Some information on that:
All smokers are going to be slightly different in terms of how they operate, so I recommend reading any included directions, if you’re not already familiar with your smoker and setting up the smoke box.
You’re looking to cook these for a fairly long time - around 2 hours - on low heat. High heat will cook the wings too fast for the flavor to really develop.
Note: If you’re using an electric or pellet smoker where you can easily control the temperature - quickly - you can skip the frying. Just crank the temp up at the end, for 15 minutes or so.
If you don’t have a smoker, you can use a grill: Gas Grill / Propane Grill, Charcoal Grill, Pellet Grill, it doesn’t really matter (though we prefer charcoal!). You’ll just want to get it set up for indirect cooking.
Indirect heat lets you keep the temperature low enough to get a good smoke flavor to the wings, before they’re overcooked.
To turn your grill into a smoker:
First thing: set your grill up such that you have an area to cook in that is NOT subjected to direct heat.
How you do this will depend on your actual grill, it may mean only activate one side of the burner(s), or having the coals in one half of the grill only.
Set up a makeshift smoking pan. Soak some wood chips (more on wood chips in a bit!) in hot water for 30-45 minutes.
Place the soaked chips in a foil pie pan and cover tightly with foil, OR use some heavy-duty foil to fashion a well-sealed pouch around the chips.
Either way, cut several small slits in the foil, to allow smoke to escape.
Place this smoker box over your burner or coals, and the chicken over the unheated area you prepared in the grill. Cover the grill and cook per the recipe.
This recipe really only needs 3 ingredients (plus wood chips, more on that in a second!):
- Split Chicken Wings
- Dry Rub
- Spray oil - I use Olive oil, but avocado works as well,
The wings are pretty self-explanatory - see the tips section below for pointers.
For the dry rub, you can use any dry rub you like. I like to use a modified version of my Smoky Dry Rub for Wings:
2 tablespoon Smoked Paprika
1 tablespoon Brown Sugar
1 tablespoon Onion Powder
2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
2 teaspoon Smoked Serrano Powder
1 ½+ teaspoon Smoked Sea Salt
1 teaspoon Mustard Powder
1 teaspoon Cumin
1 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
½ teaspoon Oregano
½ teaspoon Thyme
Lately, I’ve been leaving out the brown sugar, as I’m doing keto. (Have you seen my new blog, Low Carb Hoser?).
If you don’t have smoked serrano, you can substitute cayenne pepper or chili powder.
Wood for Smoking Chicken Wings
If you’re new to using a smoker, you may be intimidated by the variety of wood types available.
Each imparts a different flavour - and degree of flavour! - on the items being smoked, so it’s good to know what the options are.
There’s really no one “best wood” for smoking, it depends on your taste and what you’re looking to do!
Here is the narrowed-down list of the woods that we recommend for this specific recipe (and chicken in general!)
Hickory Wood Chips - or Hickory Wood Pellets - is great option to use when you’re not saucing the wings, IMHO - it’s got a very distinct flavour, and it’s one that can compete in a weird way with some rubs.
This one is very specific, but it’s also the one we use most often, so I’m specifying the brand.
Jack Daniel's Bourbon Barrel Wood Chips - or Jack Daniel's Wood Pellets - are made from barrels used to age Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, and they impart a really nice flavour on items smoked with them.
JD not your thing? There are other kinds of barrel wood products out there, you can get things like Rum Barrel Wood Chips, Apple & Rum Barrel Wood Chips, Maple & Bourbon Barrel Wood Chips, Scotch Barrel Wood Chips, and more.
When we’re using one of these, we’ll skip the sauce and use a more mild rub, to really let the flavour of the chips take center stage.
It has a very distinct flavour, so I’ll usually skip sauce when using it.
That said, we really like smoke flavour, so we’ll use it for chicken anyway!
It’s pretty mildly flavoured, so the taste is easily drowned out.
Which type of wood you choose is going to depend on your preferences, and availability. Another thing to keep in mind is your rub, and whether you’ll be using sauce.
If you’re using a sauce, pick a wood flavour that compliments it, without overpowering it. If you’re not using sauce, you can really use whatever flavour you want!
How to Make the Best Smoked Wings
Prepare the Wings
If you aren’t using a premade rub, mix your dry ingredients together in small bowl.
If your wings aren’t already split, use a sharp, heavy knife to split whole chicken wings at the joint and tip.
Dry chicken wings by blotting with paper towels, season with a bit of salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, toss your chicken wings with as much chicken rub as you like - I usually go about 2 tablespoon per Kg of wings, but it’ll depend on the rub I’m using.
Once the chicken is evenly coated with rub, place chicken wings in a large Ziploc bag and chill for an hour or two before smoking.
Note: You don’t have to chill for the hour or two - you CAN smoke as soon as you toss them in the rub - but you’ll get a deeper flavour if you let it sit.
Smoke The Wings
Preheat your smoker to 225 F, fill your smoker’s water pan with hot water, and remove the wings from the plastic bag, if applicable.
Arrange the wings on the smoker racks, leaving space between each. If you have any known hot spots - for ours, it’s the very back of the smoker - avoid placing wings in that area.
Smoke at 225 degrees F (or thereabouts!) for an hour and a half, until internal temperature - measured with a meat thermometer - reaches 165 F.
Slow smoking at a low temperature like this gives the smoke time to really permeate the meat as it cooks. Cooking at a higher temperature would cook the meat too fast for the flavour to really develop.
Note: Cook time will vary wildly based on the size of the wings (small wings will cook faster, whole wings will take longer), and the consistency of the heat in the smoker.
Remove from smoker.
Crisp the Wings
Air Fryer: Spray wings with a bit of pan spray/spray oil, and air fry for 5 minutes at 400 F.
Deep Fryer: Deep fry at 375 F for 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to absorb excess oil, serve immediately.
Broiler: Arrange smoked wings on a broiling pan. Spray with a bit of pan spray, broil on high for a few minutes, until crispy.
Tips for Smoking Chicken Wings
Buying the Chicken
- Buy the freshest chicken you can get, ideally as “split wings” or “party style” wings. They’re a little more expensive than whole wings, but a lot less hassle!
- If you buy whole wings, use a sharp knife - ideally a cleaver - to split the wings at the joint and the tip. Discard the tips, or freeze them to toss in your next batch of chicken stock.
- You can use frozen chicken wings for this, just be sure that they’re fully thawed before use. Also, blotting with a paper towel is even more important when using previously frozen wings.
- You can use this recipe for smoked chicken drumsticks or smoked chicken thighs as well, you’ll just want to increase either the smoking time or the finishing (deep frying or air frying) time.
Balancing Wood Flavour
- If you’re using a more intensely flavored wood (Oak, Hickory, Mesquite), go easy on the smoking.
You can do this by mixing the intensely flavored wood with a more mild variety, only using the intensely flavored wood for the first half of the smoking time, or smoking for a shorter amount of time, and finishing off in the oven, deep fryer, or air fryer.
Serving Smoked Wings
- These wings are best when served immediately after crisping them up, so I like to have any sides or sauces ready to go, before I put the wings in the fryer.
- Try the wings before saucing! Between the rub and the smoke flavour, you may find that you don’t even want sauce on it - we usually don’t.
- If you’re not already saucing the wings, little bowls of BBQ sauce, buffalo sauce, etc are great on the side! Use your favorite sauce - barbecue sauce, your favorite wing sauce, or hot sauce. Smoked buffalo wings are *awesome*, btw!
- If you are saucing the wings after crisping, heat the sauce first - it’ll give you the best results. I’ll just bring it to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat.
- I usually go pretty traditional with sides for this: carrot sticks, celery sticks, and ranch dressing. (I’m not a fan of bleu cheese dressing, don’t judge!).
If you have any leftovers, allow them to cool almost to room temperature before placing in a ziplock baggie or airtight container. Store in the fridge for up to 3 days.
To reheat, toss them in a 400F oven for 5+ minutes, until warmed through and crispy... or in an airfryer set to 375 F for 5+ minutes.
More Grilling & Smoker Recipes!
Looking for an excuse to fire up the grill? I've got you...
Apple Chicken Burgers with Basil & Gouda
Cold Smoked Mayo
Cold Smoked Potato Salad
Crispy Smoked Bacon
Greek Chicken Souvlaki
Grilled Jambalaya Skewers
Hop Marinated Chicken & Vegetable Skewers
Hoppy IPA BBQ Sauce
How to Cook Corn on the Cob
Hot Smoked Salmon
Montreal Smoked Meat
Montreal Steak Spice & Marinade
Moroccan Spiced Lamb Burgers
Replica Diana Sauce
Smoked Cheese Balls
Smoked Chicken Breast
Smoked Chicken Salad
Smoked French Fries
Smoked Jalapeno Poppers
Smoked Mac and Cheese
Spinach Feta Salmon Burgers
Tandoori Spiced Chicken Burgers with Mango
Vegetarian Chorizo Burgers with Grilled Poblano & Cilantro Pesto
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Crispy Smoked Chicken Wings
- 2 kg Split chicken wings
- 3-4 tablespoon Chicken Wing Rub of choice
- Spray oil
- In a large bowl, toss your chicken wings with as much chicken rub as you like - I usually go about 2 tablespoon per Kg of wings, but it’ll depend on the rub I’m using.
- Once the chicken is evenly coated with rub, transfer to a plastic zip baggie and chill for an hour or two before smoking.
- Arrange the wings on the racks of your smoker, leaving space between each.
- Smoke at 225F (or thereabouts!) for an hour and a half, until internal temperature - measured with a meat thermometer - reaches 165 F.
- Remove from smoker.
- Spray wings with a bit of pan spray / spray oil, and air fry for ___ at ___ F.
- Alternately, deep fry at 375 F for 3-5 minutes. Transfer to paper towel lined baking sheet to absorb excess oil, serve immediately.